TV DVD Review: ELI STONE

To paraphrase series costar Victor Garber: everyone, everywhere, needs an Eli Stone Season One DVD set.
In our age of "junk" television--talk shows, "reality" shows, mega-game shows, bargain-basement sitcoms, spinoffs of spinoffs--it's rare to stumble upon a fresh, high-quality new series. It's rarer when that series actually can help you change your perception of the world around you and your place in it. For me, that series is--believe it or not--a show about a lawyer.

One of ABC's 2008 midseason replacements, the fantasy legal dramedy Eli Stone is available now on four-disc DVD, giving you the option to devour in short order all 550 minutes of this charming little effects-laden epic that's part musical and part existential journey, or to savor the interpersonal relationships, the quirky courtroom battles, the sharp dialogue and the thought-provoking themes found in each of the 13 Season One episodes.

The premise created by Greg Berlanti & Marc Guggenheim is simple enough: newly-engaged San Francisco legal eagle Eli Stone (Jonny Lee Miller of Trainspotting and Angelina Jolie's first marriage) starts having hallucinations of, among other things, George Michael singing in his living room, which leads his brother/physician (Matt Letscher) to discover an inoperable brain aneurysm. Eli and fiancee' Taylor (Natasha Henstridge of Species) are devastated, but Eli's acupuncturist with the fake Chinese accent (James Saito) thinks there may be more to it: Eli may, in fact, be a prophet.

Over the course of twelve more sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-touching, always-riveting episodes, Eli endures visions of Hawaiian surfers in the men's room, streetcars in the lobby, WWII battlefields, musical numbers starring his coworkers, and even a firebreathing dragon--all of which seem to be symbolically tied to the main plot. Meanwhile, his friends, family and boss (Victor Garber of Alias) grow increasingly concerned for Eli's health and sanity. Worse still, Eli himself begins to doubt the visions mean anything at all.

But, as George Michael says, "You gotta have faith."

Eli Stone sports a strong ensemble of fresh and seasoned acting talent, including Julie Gonzalo (Veronica Mars) as Eli's adorable junior associate and potential love interest, Sam Jaeger as a wise-ass attorney who actually may have a heart, and even Loretta Devine--whom I've never liked before--as Eli's tough-love secretary. They're supported by strong episode plots (most of which reflect on Eli's personal voyage of discovery), witty dialogue, and a seasonal story arc with immense scope--this last element courtesy of high production values and a skilled FX team who not only provides set pieces like an earthquake that damages Golden Gate Bridge, but also makes every "location" look bigger than it is in reality (I'm pretty sure it's the most significant use of greenscreen for a "courtroom drama").

When compared with the length of the season (and, thus, the size of the DVD set), the DVD extras are of a satisfactory quantity. You get bloopers and deleted scenes; featurettes on the series origin, the visual effects, the law firm set, and George Michael; and there's even an extended version of the pilot episode with optional audio commentary.

Despite all that, I wanted more, and I eagerly await the October 14th Season Two premiere. It's still amazing to me that a TV show of such originality, with intelligent humor, engaging characters and important themes, not only made it to the air but also has been invited to stay.

I guess ABC's got faith in Eli Stone.
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PAnthony
9/10/2008
Earth's Mightiest

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